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GPs threatened over patient data

By Gareth Iacobucci

GP practices have been threatened with having their patient registrations revoked unless they provide patient details needed for data to be uploaded to the NHS electronic spine.

In the latest controversy to hit the embattled NHS IT programme, the GPC this week accused Birmingham PCT of inhumane treatment, after it warned practices that unless all its patients had an NHS number compatible with the demands of the Summary Care Record, their registrations would be removed.

Birmingham PCT said the warning was sent because of new guidelines being used to prepare for the rollout of the care record, which meant it could no longer accept any patients with temporary NHS numbers.

Pulse understands other PCTs elsewhere in the country have issued similar warnings to GPs, with fears that practices in areas with large numbers of immigrant patients will be forced to either turn them away or risk the wrath of their PCT.

Dr Robert Morley, a GP in Birmingham and secretary of the city's LMC, said the Government's rollout of the electronic care record was to blame. The phasing out of temporary NHS cards under the programme was leading to patients being denied access to proper primary care services until they received a full number, he claimed.

Practices with a high number of immigrant patients were ‘repeatedly requested by the PCT to provide further details about these patients otherwise they would be unable to register them', he added.

Pulse understands practices have been urged to use NHS smartcards to try to track down patients' details if they do not have the full data.

Dr Morley said: ‘The PCT had actually written to every practice in Birmingham and Solihull informing them of this situation, saying that not only were they not accepting new registrations but also they would remove from practice lists patients who are already registered with them if they weren't able to allocate permanent NHS numbers to them, unless the practices could provide them with more information.'

Dr Morley believed the PCTs' demands were in breach of GP contracts, adding: ‘It became clear from all of this that the PMS and GMS regulations are incompatible with the demands of the Government's IT agenda.'

GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman this week branded Birmingham PCT's action as ‘inappropriate', and ‘not a very humane way to treat patients'.

A spokesperson for Birmingham PCT said: ‘The process for allocating NHS numbers has been changed and the facility to assign temporary numbers no longer exists for PCTs. If the patient cannot be traced from the information the practice provides, the surgery will be contacted to check that all the information provided by the patient has been input correctly; if this is the case then the PCT will allocate a new number to the patient.'

The spokesperson added: ‘The cross check with the surgery is done to avoid creating a duplicate record. Previously there was an option to allocate a temporary NHS number to the patient while more detailed tracing was done by a central NHS team. This option is no longer available so the onus on tracing the patient at registration is much stronger.'

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